Upon learning of the death of Coretta Scott King at the age of 78, Kennedy told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday, "Dr. Martin Luther King was really the driving force, not just for the civil rights movement, but for the great 'march for progress' — and as he was the father of that movement, she was the mother of that movement.
"They, together, were the force in this nation, in an area where our Founding Fathers failed. The Founding Fathers wrote slavery into the Constitution. We fought a Civil War. It wasn't really until we had Dr. King and Coretta Scott King in the'50s that awakened the conscience of the nation so the political leadership in the early '60s could begin what I call 'the march to progress,' knocking down walls on discrimination on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and disability.
"We have benefited so much from their inspiration and leadership.
Kennedy went on to express concern that, "There certainly is work to be done. The signs of bigotry and discrimination are still out there. They're much more sophisticated and much more subtle than when Dr. King was facing the police dogs and the beatings that took place in Selma (Ala.), Montgomery (Ala.), and (when he was) imprisoned and threatened during that period of time. But they're still out there.
"There's no question that we're a fairer nation, a better nation because of Dr. King. I think what Coretta Scott King would want us to do is continue this march toward progress and not retreat from it. I think that would be her hope, her desire, for those that respected her life and understand the inspiration of her message.
"This is something that those that care about the King legacy should continue this march toward progress. And I think it's teetering now in the United States. We cannot go backwards."
Kennedy added, "I've had the good opportunity to get to know the (King) children over the years, and I have seen the time they spent with their mother. Their mother was not only a powerful and charismatic figure and leader for our time, but she helped those children grow up to be individuals with a sense of dignity, a sense of pride in their heritage and their strong commitment to do something for someone else. I admire her for that as well. So our prayers are with the family today."